Saturday, October 24, 2009
Loren Stillmans' "Winter Fruits" :Dry Ice in an Alto
Loren Stillman is a London born alto saxophonist who is now residing in Brooklyn, NY.
In 2002 he was a semi-finalist in the Theolonius Monk Saxophone Competition. He has played with a myriad of master jazz musicians including Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, John Abercrombie and has studied with Lee Konitz and Dave Liebman.
Loren Stillman’s new release “Winter Fruits” is a compilation of eight songs that together demonstrate a modernist approach to improvisational music, where melody and chord changes are for the most part abandoned. In lieu of such traditional forms, the music uses a combination of orchestrated and free journeys into the creation of a musical atmosphere where the artist interaction create a flowing, unpredictable conversation with the listener more or less along for the ride. For this effort Stillman brings together the skills of organ master Gary Versace, guitarist Nate Radley and drummer/composer Ted Poor, collectively known as Bad Touch.
In promotional material sent by his publicist, I was struck by a comment attributed to the guitarist John Abercrombie. Supposedly Abercrombie compared the young Stillman, his band mate in the group Jackalope, to a young Lee Konitz on steroids. Certainly Stillman’s chilled delivery, lack of vibrato and deliberative cadence are derivative of Konitz’s cool sound. Abercrombie is another obvious influential force in this music. The album is reminiscent of some of the ethereal collaborations that Abercrombie has done with the British multi-instrumentalist John Surman.
The entire album flows in an enjoyable manner that seems organically connected with the voices of Stillman, Radley, Poor and Versace darting in and out in a precise but relaxed manner. The album is best listened to as a suite in one sitting. Stillman’s use of long, deliberate, laid-back lines of improvisation are quite effective. His tone is pure and never abrasive. He rarely uses screeches or harsh accents., although there is sometimes a hint of breathiness in his delivery. When he does emphasis a passage it is usually with a overflowing continuity of thought which pours from his alto like the dense white clouds of condensation that pour from melting dry ice.
The precision of the group is most impressive on “Muted Dreams” with its delicate and exquisitely executed passages of luminescent sound. Stillman’s extended runs are particularly impressive in their tonal beauty and flawless fluidity. “Skin” is another fine composition where the group easily navigates complex, synchronous lines in a fusion-like manner but with a more refined approach that concentrates on tone in addition to speed.
“With You” is one of the more melodic pieces on the album with Radley and Versace showing some nice interplay. Poor predominantly uses cymbals with some accents on toms and snares. When Versace delves into his solo there is no discernable time except for a pulsing, throb-like cadence. Throughout it all Poor somehow manages to create the illusion of the barest of rhythms. Radley’s re-entry after Versace’s solo is beautifully seamless. Stillman returns with some of his most lyrical playing.
The Abercrombie influence is especially apparent on the airy Radley guitar lines of “Man of Mystery”. Versace’s versatile command of his arsenal of sounds is complimentary throughout. He modulates his volume and like a chameleon changes tonal colors at precise moments to add emphasis.
“Winter Fruits” is perhaps the most choppy, darting composition on the album It ends with a repeating bass line by Versace that is the backdrop for some truly free improvisational ramblings by Radley, Stillman and Versace while Poor pounds and crashes relentlessly behind.
“Puffy” is a slow, reflective piece that allows Stillman to show the most lyrical and sensitive side to his playing. Radley intertwines floating guitar riffs between Stillman’s thoughts as Versace church-like organ creates an air of somber seriousness.
“Winter Fruits” represents an evolutionary step in the refinement of a very promising young alto saxophonist who plays his horn with the confidence of a seasoned bartender delivering the perfect chilled martini.
Artist: Loren Stillman
CD: Winter Fruits (PIT 3042)
Musicians: Loren Stillman (alto saxophone); Gary Versace (organ); Nate Ridley (guitar);
Ted Poor (drums).
Recorded: Recorded July 4th & 5th Bennett Studios, New Jersey
Track listing: Muted Dreams; Skin; Man of Mystery; With You; Like A Magic Kiss; A Song to Be Played; Winter Fruits; Puffy. Highlighted tracks are favorites.
All compositions by Loren Stillman except Muted Dream & Winter Fruit by Ted Poor.